BANABAN COMMUNITY RABI
Rabi Island situated in the remote north-eastern region of the Fiji Group.
Extracts: "Te Rii Ni Banaba - The Backbone of Banaba"
by R. K. Sigrah & S. M. King
First Published IPS, University of South Pacific, Fiji 2001, Second edition Banaban Vision Publications 2019.
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VIEW OF RABI ISLAND
Life for the Banabans today is still an on-going struggle, as the Banabans come to terms with life without the influence of the dominating Phosphate Company and the loss back in 1980 of their small income derived from phosphate royalties. Today the people have returned to the basic way of life, living a very traditional lifestyle and relying on the strong family ties and cultural roots from their past. The Banabans hope to move toward a bright and happy future in a World that has changed so greatly since the first discovery of phosphate on their homeland - Banaba.
Nuku village on Rabi today
The 15 December 1995 marked the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Banabans first arrival to their new homeland. Due to the Banaban Community’s lack of funds and development programmes, Rabi island still mostly remains undeveloped. The potential for Rabi is unlimited with good management and the proper development programmes put in place.
The current population on Rabi (as at 2019) is approximately 2,500 with various Banaban communities now spread without Fiji, Kiribati, Australia and New Zealand. Due to mismanagement and mishandling, Rabi is a far cry from those first days when the Banabans first received the original £UK6.5 million ($AUD10 million) settlement. One must remember that their Court Case alone, was the longest in history and that their legal advice did not come cheaply, with a legal bill of $2 million. They also employed people over the years that they thought would help them. The other problem is that the money from the UK court case was not given to them at all but put in trust to provide them with an income on the annual interest payments to administer not only Rabi but also Banaba.
Up until 1980 the Banaban landowners still received royalty payments for their land holdings back on Banaba and this would see the influx of funds into the community over that period. The Banabans never realised the impact the cessation of mining would have on the entire community thinking that the annual interest on $10 million dollars was a lot of money. They had no knowledge of inflation rates, the rising costs of just maintaining two communities in remote regions of the Pacific which are located more than 2,000 miles apart.
At the time the Fiji government believed that the Banabans on Rabi had plenty of money, especially with respect to some of the poverty seen in Fiji itself. But as one of the past Banaban Administrators said, "The people have no idea where their money comes from. They just think it’s an endless pit". The Banabans themselves said that they only wished they had known the value of money when Albert Ellis had first arrived. Unfortunately, money had never been part of a Banaban’s culture and they have learned the hard way, how to handle their monetary affairs in such a cut-throat business world.
WHO ADMINISTERS BANABAN AFFAIRS?
The island is administered by the Rabi Council of Leaders which is made up of two elected representatives from each of Rabi's four villages and a Chairman is elected and then another person elected from the same village to give a total representation from every village on Rabi. The council has it's main administration office back in Banaba House in Pratt Street, Suva. Rabi is still very remote and only has two manual phone lines into the island. There is only some limited electrification on the island and these generators operate only in very limited hours at night.
Rabi still remains a closed community and the only accommodation on the island is through the council-run guest house. All visitors to Rabi or Banaba should contact the Rabi Council in Suva for permission to visit the islands. There is also a local Banaban community living and working in Fiji cities such as Suva, Nadi and Lautoka. This group of Banabans also is administered through the Rabi Council of Leaders but have no elected members representing them from these areas, only the Banaban villages back on Rabi.
Since 1992, Rabi has become a dry island except for the kava or coconut toddy, which is also used as an important part of the island’s trade or barter.